Early Predictions for Biggest Winners and Losers of 2021 CFB Recruiting Class

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistFebruary 12, 2020

Early Predictions for Biggest Winners and Losers of 2021 CFB Recruiting Class

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    The 2020 college football recruiting cycle recently wrapped up with national signing day Feb. 5, but it's never too early to start looking ahead to next year.

    Before spring games even begin, programs are already laying the groundwork for their next hauls of freshman talent, and the 2021 recruiting class now takes center stage in the prep spotlight.

    Using the composite rankings from 247Sports and early crystal ball predictions, we highlighted three potential winners and three potential losers of the 2021 recruiting window and then selected our biggest potential winner.

    Let's get to it.

Losers: Florida State Seminoles

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    Florida State head coach Mike Norvell
    Florida State head coach Mike NorvellTim Warner/Getty Images

    With Willie Taggart and Odell Haggins out and former Memphis head coach Mike Norvell in, the 2020 season will represent a changing of the guard at Florida State.

    The Seminoles wrapped up the 2020 recruiting cycle with the No. 22 class in the nation, led by eight 4-star recruits, including highly regarded cornerback Demorie Tate (No. 34 overall recruit, No. 4 CB) and potential quarterback of the future Chubba Purdy (No. 191, No. 7 dual-threat QB).

    Can Norvell match that level of success after coming from the smaller pond that is the AAC?

    With Florida (No. 4 class) and Miami (No. 7 class) off to strong starts to the 2021 cycle, the in-state competition figures to be steep, and back-to-back losing seasons won't help the Seminoles.

    The team picked up a commitment from 4-star linebacker Branden Jennings on Friday, giving it the first 4-star prospect of what is now a group of four commits.

    How Norvell does in his first season on the recruiting trail for a large program could portend how his tenure will play out at Florida State.

Winners: Washington Huskies

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    Washington head coach Jimmy Lake
    Washington head coach Jimmy LakeElaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Since 247Sports began putting together its rankings back in 2000, the Washington Huskies have landed a handful of high-profile quarterback recruits.

    Here's a rundown of the best of the bunch and their grades:

    • 5-star Matt Tuiasosopo, 2004—0.9890
    • 4-star Jake Locker, 2006—0.9740
    • 4-star Casey Paus, 2001—0.9711
    • 4-star Jake Browning, 2015—0.9633
    • 4-star Cyler Miles, 2012—0.9573
    • 4-star Colson Yankoff, 2018—0.9564
    • 4-star Jacob Sirmon, 2018—0.9559

    On Nov. 23, 2018, the Huskies notched a commitment from 5-star Sam Huard (0.9937) of Kennedy Catholic High School in Burien, Washington. He ranks as the No. 2 pro-style quarterback in the class and the No. 11 prospect overall.

    Brandon Huffman of 247Sports offered up the following scouting report:

    "Smooth and quick release. Reads the field and can get through progressions quickly. Good arm strength, throws a nice deep ball, but can also make the short and intermediate throws on the money. Decent athlete and mobility, but more of a pure pocket passer. Very accurate, can fit the ball in tight windows. Great intangibles, high football IQ. Can tell he grew up around the game."

    The son of former Huskies and NFL quarterback Damon Huard, Sam Huard is Washington's best quarterback recruit in two decades.

Losers: Penn State Nittany Lions

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    Penn State head coach James Franklin
    Penn State head coach James FranklinJamie Sabau/Getty Images

    While Big Ten programs such as Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan are off to strong starts on the 2021 recruiting trail, the Penn State Nittany Lions are still looking to land their first top-tier player.

    All three of their commitments are 3-star recruits:

    • TE Nick Elksnis—No. 329 recruit, No. 12 TE
    • ATH Liam Clifford—No. 522 recruit, No. 46 ATH
    • OG Nate Bruce—No. 677 recruit, No. 29 OG

    That leaves them 31st nationally in the early rankings after they finished 15th during the 2020 cycle.

    Penn State's strong 2020 class included 11 4-star recruits among its 27 players, but it will need to get the ball rolling if it hopes to bring in a similar crop of talent in 2021.

Winners: USC Trojans

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    USC head coach Clay Helton
    USC head coach Clay HeltonSean M. Haffey/Getty Images

    After five straight years with a top-10 recruiting class, the USC Trojans fell to No. 19 in 2019.

    The 2020 cycle showed an even steeper slide and culminated in a 13-player class that ranked 55th.

    It appears the tide is turning, however, and things are already looking up for 2021.

    "I expect USC to bounce back with their 2021 class, and we're already seeing that," Greg Biggins of 247Sports said (via Chris Hummer). "The early buzz has been good thus far as the Trojans staff already looks more aggressive in how they're recruiting locally and nationally, and after only having about 16 spots total in the '20 class, they should be able to sign closer to a full class of 25 this year as well."

    The Trojans have already secured commitments from 5-star quarterback Jake Garcia (No. 14 overall recruit), as well as 4-star linebacker Ma'a Gaoteote (No. 63) and 4-star defensive tackle Jay Toia (No. 198).

    Considering they reeled in just one player ranked among the top 200 in 2020—4-star receiver and No. 45 overall recruit Gary Bryant Jr.—they have already enjoyed more top-tier success in the 2021 cycle.

Losers: South Carolina Gamecocks

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    South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp
    South Carolina head coach Will MuschampJacob Kupferman/Getty Images

    Despite a 4-8 finish in 2019, South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp landed the No. 18 recruiting class in the nation during the 2020 cycle.

    That included 5-star defensive tackle Jordan Burch and eight 4-star recruits. That helped the Gamecocks finish eighth in the ultra-competitive SEC.

    Unless the tide turns quickly, that could be tough to duplicate.

    The Gamecocks have secured just one commitment for 2021, and it came from unranked cornerback Demarko Williams.

    The program is also set to lose director of player personnel Matt Lindsey, who will join Lane Kiffin's staff at Ole Miss in the same role, according to Ben Breiner of the State. That will undoubtedly be a blow to South Carolina's recruiting efforts.

    It's still early, but South Carolina is not projected to land any of the top 200 recruits who have received crystal ball predictions.

    There is work to do in Columbia.

Winners: Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Ohio State head coach Ryan Day
    Ohio State head coach Ryan DayMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    Ohio State head coach Ryan Day has already put in a ton of work on his 2021 class.

    The Buckeyes have nabbed 10 commitments to stake an early claim to the No. 1 spot in the national rankings.

    The headliner of the early haul is 5-star defensive end Jack Sawyer, who is the No. 2 overall recruit and an in-state prospect from Pickerington High School North.

    Allen Trieu of 247Sports wrote: "Depending on how his body develops, he can project to different spots on the line, but strongside end is the most obvious spot. Should be an early impact player at the Power Five level and is a likely future first-round draft choice with continued improvement/development."

    He's flanked by a strong contingent of 4-star recruits, including the potential quarterback of the future:

    • QB Kyle McCord—No. 33 recruit, No. 5 pro-style QB
    • WR Marvin Harrison Jr.—No. 54 recruit, No. 8 WR
    • OT Ben Christman—No. 56 recruit, No. 10 OT
    • OG Donovan Jackson—No. 57 recruit, No. 1 OG
    • WR Jayden Ballard—No. 72 recruit, No. 11 WR
    • ILB Reid Carrico—No. 119 recruit, No. 4 ILB
    • DT Mike Hall—No. 230 recruit, No. 19 DT

    The Buckeyes finished with the No. 5 recruiting class during the 2020 cycle, and they are well on their way to improving on that rank.

Biggest Winners: Clemson Tigers

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    Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney
    Clemson head coach Dabo SwinneyAssociated Press

    The Clemson Tigers landed a whopping five 5-star recruits and another 12 4-star recruits during the 2020 recruiting cycle to finish with the No. 3 recruiting class in the nation.

    The cream of the ACC crop is well on its way to another impressive haul of talent.

    Head coach Dabo Swinney has already secured a commitment from 5-star defensive end Korey Foreman, who ranks as the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2021 class.

    "He's a plus athlete who's strong at the point of attack and shows enough athleticism to break down and make plays in space. Can continue to improve as an athlete but really checks off every box and is still filling out as he matures," Greg Biggins of 247Sports wrote.

    He is joined by an impressive collection of 4-star recruits:

    • WR Beaux Collins—No. 34 recruit, No. 3 WR
    • SDE Cade Denhoff—No. 90 recruit, No. 7 SDE
    • OT Marcus Tate—No. 93 recruit, No. 15 OT
    • ILB Jeremiah Trotter Jr.—No. 104 recruit, No. 2 ILB
    • TE Jake Briningstool—No. 110 recruit, No. 2 TE
    • C Ryan Linthicum—No. 142 recruit, No. 1 C
    • WR Dacari Collins—No. 151 recruit, No. 30 WR
    • RB Phil Mafah—No. 233 recruit, No. 13 RB

    There's a long way to go before the 2021 recruiting cycle comes to a close, but Clemson is a clear contender for the No. 1 class.